Upon sweeping the Oscars with his film Parasite, writer-director Bong Joon-ho asked the audience to watch more of Korean cinema. At the Golden Globes, Bong also said one of the greatest lines at the show this year: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
For me, I came to Korean cinema in the 2010s after watching Old Boy for the first time. The first film in his Vengeance Trilogy, writer-director Chan Wook-park was my gateway. I worked my through Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance next. After that, I ran through the rest of his filmography finding gems like I’m a Cyborg But That’s Ok, a fantasy set in a mental hospital with equal amounts of romance and perceived science fiction.
Now, I’m excited to see the conversation ignited across social media, with people excited to see more of Bong’s films and other Korean films as well. To do my part, I made a Twitter thread with some of my favorite films from South Korea. So, I wanted to expand on this and pick 10 Korean films currently available on streaming platforms for more people to get into Korean cinema.
These films aren’t ranked, because they’re all amazing, and there are many more films not available on streaming platforms. Also, to avoid spoilers, I’ve included the official IMDb synopsis while also including a line referencing why you should watch it. From action to horror, romance, and revenge, here are 13 Korean films you can stream right now.
Director: Byung-gil Jung
Writers: Byeong-sik Jung, Byung-gil Jung
Stars: Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung
Watch if you loved John Wick 3 and it’s motorcycle fight scene – that’s from this film.
“A female assassin leaves a trail of bodies behind her as she seeks revenge.”
Train to Busan
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writers: Joo-Suk Park, Sang-ho Yeon (screenplay)
Stars: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma
Watch if you love zombies and want a film that’s the best of the genre since 28 Days Later.
“While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.”
Director: Chang-dong Lee
Writers: Jungmi Oh (screenplay by), Chang-dong Lee (screenplay by,) Haruki Murakami (based on the short story “Barn Burning” by)
Stars: Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun
Watch if you love slow-burn psychological thrillers.
“Jong-su bumps into a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood, who asks him to look after her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, who confesses his secret hobby.”
Director: Sung-hoon Kim
Writers: Jo-yun Hwang, Shin-yeon Won, Hwang Jo Yoon
Stars: Hyun Bin, Ji-hye Seo, Dong-Gun Jang
Watch if you love period pieces with great costuming and of course, zombies. If you’ve watched the Korean series Kingdom, this is up your alley.
“Lee Chung is a Prince of Joseon, but he has been taken hostage to the Qing Dynasty.”
The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Writers: Jee-woon Kim (screenplay) (as Kim Jee-woon), Min-suk Kim (screenplay)
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Byung-Hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung
Watch if you love Westerns and martial arts and absurdity.
“The story of two outlaws and a bounty hunter in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits.”
Director: Jung Huh
Writers: Jung Huh
Stars: Jung-ah Yum, Hyuk-kwon Park, Jin Heo
Watch if you love classic ghost stories based in urban legends.
“The Jangsan Tiger, who mimics human voices to lure them close, encounters a family affected by the creature.”
Director: Seung-Won Lee
Writers: Bruce Khan
Stars: Je-Heon Choi, SooJin Jeong, Bruce Khan
Watch if you liked The Condemned or just brutal martial arts and the concept of a prison island.
“A former police investigator decides to go to a prison island to revenge the brutal killings of his family.”
A Tale of Two Sisters
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Writers: Jee-woon Kim
Stars: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Soo-jung Lim
Watch if you like stories about grief and ones that never go as they seem.
“A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.”
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writers: Sang-ho Yeon
Stars: Seung-ryong Ryu, Eun-kyung Shim, Jung-min Park
Watch if you like stories of people becoming superhuman with no idea of how use their power.
“After drinking water from a mountain spring, a bank security guard gains telekinetic superpowers, which he must use to save his estranged daughter from an evil construction company, as a superhero.”
Tune in For Love
Director: Ji-woo Jung
Writers: Ji-woo Jung
Stars: Go-eun Kim, Hae-In Jung, Hae-Joon Park
Watch if you love long romances that never seem to work out right until the moment it has to.
“In 1997 during the IMF crisis, two people meet while exchanging stories on a radio program. They fall in love, but can’t quite seem to get the timing right.”
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers:Seo-kyeong Jeong (as Seo-gyeong Jeong), Chan-wook Park
Stars: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Shi-hoo Kim
Watch if you’re drawn to stories of revenge and how women experience it differently and how they enact it.
“After being wrongfully imprisoned for thirteen years and having her child taken away from her, a woman seeks revenge through increasingly brutal means.”
Director: Hong-jin Na
Writers: Hong-jin Na
Stars: Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Do-won Kwak
Watch if you like exorcism stories but are burnt out on the same formula.
“Soon after a stranger arrives in a little village, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman, drawn into the incident, is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.”
Memoir of a Murderer
Director: Shin-yeon Won
Writers: Jo-yun Hwang, Young-ha Kim (novel)
Stars: Kyung-gu Sol, Nam-gil Kim, Seol-Hyun Kim
Watch if you like slow-burning twisting and turning thrillers.
“A former serial killer with Alzheimer’s fights to protect his daughter from her psychotic boyfriend.”
These 13 Korean films are just the tip of the iceberg and showcase a variety of storytelling. Start streaming and start watching more of them.
All information on these 13 Korean films including names and synopsis were taken directly from IMDb.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.